Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Arcs at the Bowery Ballroom

Dan Auerbach
Dan Auerbach was born in Akron, Ohio, where he became the captain of his high school soccer team. His mother, a French teacher, took him to see his first concert, Whitney Houston, and his dad, an antiques dealer, took him to his second concert, the Grateful Dead. Auerbach's greatest musical inspirations, however, were the uncles who played bluegrass and his dad's collection of blues albums. Auerbach's first notable band was the Barnburners, a blues-based band that performed in Northeast Ohio clubs and released a six-track EP. Success came with the minimalist blues-rocking and Grammy-winning duo the Black Keys, formed in 2001 with drummer Patrick Carney. In 2009, Auerbach released a solo album. Auerbach now also leads the Arcs, with keyboardist/saxophonist Leon Michels, drummers Richard Swift (of the Shins) and Homer Steinweiss, bassist Nick Movshon, guitarist Kenny Vaughan, and Julie Justine Acosta, Mireya Ramos and Shae Fiol, the three-piece all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache. The Arcs released a debut album, Yours, Dreamily, on September 4, 2015.

The Arcs started as a solo project for Auerbach, and at the Bowery Ballroom tonight the band orbited around him. The musicians contributed heartily and filled out the songs with solos, but front person Auerbach was the singer and spotlight on each song. Nevertheless, Auerbach embraced the new band's potential and produced a sound distinct from the Black Keys. The Arcs opened with "Stay in My Corner," a song inspired by the May 2015 boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and then continued to perform most of the band's debut album. The songs were pop tunes with a soulful bent, but wrapped with a full band sound, never dominated by one instrument. Subtle backing vocals, double drums, occasional double keyboards and the mariachi trio added to a balanced diplomacy that curved away from anticipated arrangements for a fresh pop twist. Called back for an encore, the Arcs reprised "Outta My Mind," which had been the second song of the set. In interviews, Auerbach has affirmed that the Arcs is not a side project but a second band for him, and the outlook is very promising.

Visit the Arcs at www.thearcs.com.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Of Monsters and Men at the Beacon Theatre

Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir
Of Monsters and Men began in 2009 in Keflavík, Iceland, when Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir sought to add to her solo project, Songbird. Of Monsters and Men entered 2010's Músíktilraunir, an annual music competition held in Iceland, as a quartet with members Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Brynjar Leifsson (electric guitar), Ragnar "Raggi "Þórhallsson (backing vocals, melodica, glockenspiel), and Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson (backing vocals, melodica, glockenspiel, tambourine). The quartet won the Músíktilraunir, then added two more members, Árni Guðjónsson (accordion/keys, backing vocals) and Kristján Páll Kristjánsson (bass, backing vocals). Guðjónsson later left the band to go back to school. Of Monsters and Men's second album, Beneath the Skin, was released on June 9, 2015. The English-language indie folk/pop band is best known for its 2011 international hit, "Little Talks."

Of Monsters and Men headlined two consecutive nights at the Beacon Theatre, bringing along four additional musicians to fill out the sound. Led primarily by the female/male vocal tag team of Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Þórhallsson, the band combined traditional folk and wall-of-sound technology for a booming take on European hinterland music. Of Monsters and Men performed most of their two albums, experimenting with a range from saccharine sweet to noisy distortion. The common denominator, however, was that lilting melodies and soft vocals played on acoustic instruments could rock thunderously when nine musicians played together. At its best, the band sounded similar to Fleetwood Mac; unfortunately, however, the great number of slow songs was lulling, despite its larger-than-life sound. Nevertheless, layered horn and percussion arrangements gained a moderate level of finesse on some of these songs. The band's performance was well executed but was less than exciting for much of the concert.

Visit Of Monsters and Men at www.ofmonstersandmen.com.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Albert Hammond Jr. at the Bowery Ballroom

Albert Hammond, Jr. was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of a pop singer and a model. His father, Albert Hammond, had a hit in 1972 with "It Never Rains in Southern California," and his mother, Claudia Fernández, was a beauty pageant winner in South America. While attending boarding school in Switzerland, the younger Hammond met Julian Casablancas. In New York City in 1998, Hammond reunited with Casablancas, who invited him to play guitar in the newly forming Strokes. The Strokes went on to sell five million records. Hammond's third solo album, Momentary Masters, released on July 31, 2015, is his first solo album in seven years.

At the Bowery Ballroom for two consecutive sold out nights, Hammond drew a clear line between his solo work and the Strokes. In the Strokes, Hammond plays rhythm guitar with an occasional lead. With his own band, he sang lead and often played no instruments at all, allowing the band to back him while he crooned two handedly into a microphone. Hammond's solo material was rooted in singer-songwriter sensibilities, but backed by indie rocking drive, particularly in the newer compositions. Hammond sang pop melodies emotively, often at the verge of being strained, as jangling  guitars and throbbing bass lines powered the songs. All songs were from his solo albums and the AHJ EP, even the unplanned "Blue Skies" that he broke into alone on his electric guitar as his crew attempted to resolve a problem with the bass amplifier. "Aren't you in the Strokes?" someone in the audience called out during a lull between songs. "Get him out of here," Hammond responded jokingly. Hammond proved that he was capable of leading a performance independent of the Strokes, but so far it seems unlikely that his solo output will eclipse the quality teamwork he shares with the Strokes.

Visit Albert Hammond Jr. at www.alberthammondjr.com.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ride at Irving Plaza

Mark Gardener
Guitarists Andy Bell and Mark Gardener formed Ride in 1988 while attending art college in Oxford, England. They recruited drummer Laurence Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt, and settled on the name Ride, with its evocation of travel and after the Ride cymbal. The quartet played its first gig at the college's Christmas party. Releasing a debut album in 1990, Ride became a pioneer in the "shoegazing" scene that was emerging in England. After four albums, the band split in 1996, with members moving on to other projects, most notably Bell who became the bassist for Oasis. Ride briefly reunited for a television show in 2001. Ride reunited again in 2014 for a 2015 tour of Europe and the United States. The band's most recent album is 1996's Tarantula.

Ride's current tour, the first in 20 years, brought the quartet to Irving Plaza tonight. It was also the 25th anniversary of the release of the band's debut album, Nowhere, and so the band's set focused heavily on the album and its later bonus tracks. Ride's sound was a Pink Floyd lush ethereal aesthetic, with early 1960s melodic pop vocals. Opening with an eight-minute version of "Leave Them All Behind," Ride began a jangly psychedelic trance that lasted nearly two hours. The fault of the performance (and of shoegaze in general) was the expansive monotony of sound, relying on a pleasant easy-flowing groove and seldom building up to crescendos. When should a song end? Approaching no climax, it was usually impossible to calculate. Nevertheless, Ride filled out its power chords with enough lead guitar runs and swooning vocal harmonies to stimulate its audience. Ride might be the most imaginative of a comparatively unimaginative genre of rock music.

Visit Ride at www.ridemusic.net.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

STIMULATE 7 Year Anniversary: Pop Will Eat Itself at Santos Party House

Graham Crabb (foreground) & Mary Byker
The roots of Pop Will Eat Itself (also known as PWEI or The Poppies) originated in 1981 in Stourbridge, England. Graham Crabb played drums in From Eden, which later became Wild and Wandering, and by 1986 evolved into Pop Will Eat Itself. The band started as a punky guitar band but transitioned into indie pop, hip hop and industrial music. Crabb left the drums to become a lead vocalist and the group had nine Top 40 hits in Great Britain. Crabb left the band in 1995 and PWEI disbanded in 1996. PWEI reformed briefly in 2005, and reformed again in 2010. Crabb is the only remaining original member; he is joined on vocals by Mary Byker (Gaye Bykers on Acid, Apollo 440, Pigface) and various available musicians. Pop Will Eat Itself's seventh album, Anti-Nasty League, was released on April 25, 2015.

New York's top promoter of industrial artists, Xris SMack, celebrated the seventh anniversary of his Stimulate monthly music events tonight by bringing Pop Will Eat Itself to Santos Party House, PWEI's first New York appearance in 20 years. After SMack's dj set, an American version of Pop Will Eat Itself took the stage after 1 a.m. The high energy duo of Crabb and Byker rapped, sang and bounced, but most of all the vocalists escalated SMack's raucous dance party. Crabb and Byker performed a razor-edged electro rock set that included humorous wordplay in "Wise Up! Sucker", "Can You Dig It?", "Everything's Cool", "Watch the Bitch Blow", "Digital Meltdown", " There Is No Love Between Us Anymore" and PWEI's commentary on Britain's immigrant policy "Ich Bin ein Ausländer." Credit must be given deservedly to the solid backing band, New Jersey's hard-rocking End of An Era, which backed the vocalists with thrash punk, hardcore dance, Goth industrial and sometimes noise-driven grooves. Crabb and Byker were the masterminds of this curious hybrid, and this time could spark a comeback for Pop Will Eat Itself.

Visit Pop Will Eat Itself at www.popwilleatitself.net.

Breaking Benjamin at the Best Buy Theater

Benjamin Burnley
Vocalist/guitarist Benjamin Burnley originally formed a soft rock band named Breaking Benjamin in 1998 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The moniker originated when Burnley broke a borrowed microphone. The original band disbanded when Burnley moved to California. After returning to Pennsylvania in 1999, Burnley formed the hard rocking Plan 9, but the group soon reclaimed the name Breaking Benjamin from the previous band. This second Breaking Benjamin sold millions of units, but went on hiatus in 2010 due to Burnley's still-undiagnosed illness. In 2014, Burnley formed a third band and once again adopted the name Breaking Benjamin. The current lineup consists of Burnley, lead guitarist Jasen Rauch (of Red), rhythm guitarist Keith Wallen (of Adelitas Way), bassist Aaron Bruch, and drummer Shaun Foist (of Picture Me Broken). Breaking Benjamin released its fifth and most recent album, Dark Before Dawn, on June 23, 2015.

At the Best Buy Theater tonight, the new Breaking Benjamin performed songs from the previous band's catalog as well as songs from the new album. The new songs were knit from the same threads, however, as radio-friendly hard rock tunes that each built to crescendos in quickly arriving choruses. Burnley has lived through many battles and perhaps his emo-oriented angst set apart Breaking Benjamin from similar commercial rock bands. In the end, the concert's weakness was its homogeneity; most song arrangements sounded predictably similar to the other predictable songs. Construction was  uniformly led by tortured lead vocals, crunching guitar riffs, vocal harmonies on the swelling choruses, and Burnley's frivolous potty-mouth messages between songs. Burnley branded the formula, and his band was taught to burnish it well. The surprises included the occasional sharing of lead vocals among the front line musicians, Rauch playing synthesizer on several songs, and several covers: Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever," Tool's "Aenema," and a medley of snippets from Star War’s "Imperial March," Tool’s "Schism," Nirvana’s "Smell Like Teen Spirit" and Pantera’s "Walk." The 15-year regiment of Breaking Benjamin was executed well and profoundly pointed to a previous decade; the concluding question was whether the new band will be allowed to evolve beyond the long-confining walls it inherited and blossom with new potential.

Visit Breaking Benjamin at www.breakingbenjamin.com.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Rancid at Terminal 5

Tim Armstrong
Guitarist/vocalist Tim Armstrong and bassist/vocalist Matt Freeman met at the age of five playing Little League baseball in the working-class town of Albany, California, near Berkeley. The two later played together in the ska punk band Operation Ivy from 1987 to 1989. When Operation Ivy split, Armstrong and Freeman formed a series of ska and hardcore bands with short life spans before forming Rancid in 1991. Rancid presently consists of Armstrong, Freeman, guitarist/vocalist Lars Frederiksen, and drummer Branden Steineckert. Rancid's eighth album, ...Honor Is All We Know, was released on October 27, 2014.

Tonight on the second of two consecutive sold out headlining shows at Terminal 5, Rancid performed 28 rapid-fire songs with hardly a breath of air in between the songs. Rancid celebrated the 20th anniversary of its biggest selling album, ...And Out Come the Wolves, with a set strongly peppered with those songs; the band played six songs from the earlier breakthrough album Let's Go and only one or two songs from each of the more recent, lesser-selling albums. Rancid proved that it was primarily a live band however, as the band drilled massive holes in the atmosphere with fast and powerful sonic blasts of pure hardcore. Song after song, the riotous music rocked fast and loud with rallying choruses. From beginning to end, "Maxwell Murder" to "Ruby SoHo," high-octane energy generated from the stage; the front line musicians only stood still when they had to use the microphones. This tsunami poured into the bouncing, shouting, fist-pumping audience. Rancid perfected the art and power of maximum throttle punk rock.

Visit Rancid at www.rancidrancid.com.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Babes in Toyland at Irving Plaza

Kat Bjelland
Originally from Woodburn, Oregon, vocalist/guitarist Kat Bjelland (formerly of Pagan Babies with Courtney Love) relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bjelland met drummer Lori Barbero at a friend's barbecue. Over the following months, Bjelland convinced Barbero to play drums and they formed Babes in Toyland in 1987 with various bassists over time. Between 1989 and 1995, Babes in Toyland released three studio albums before becoming inactive in 1997 and eventually disbanding in 2001. While the band was inspirational to some performers in the riot grrrl movement in the Pacific Northwest, the members of Babes in Toyland never associated themselves with the movement. Babes in Toyland's most recent studio album is 1995's Nemesisters. Babes in Toyland reformed in 2014 and the new trio consists of Bjelland, Barbero and bassist Clara Salyer.

At Irving Plaza tonight, Babes in Toyland revisited 17 of the band's garage punk anthems from the 1990s and kept them raw and angry. The three musicians seemed to make little attempt to polish the muddy rampage. Long, messy strands of dark hair dancing over her face, Bjelland howled her lyrics from her gut, and her fuzz-intoned guitar licks both scraped the floor and then soared into the sky while the rhythm section pounded ominous tribal beats. There was nothing cute or sweet about this roaring onslaught -- no snappy dance tunes, no harnessed harmonies, no charming anecdotes between songs. The set was coarse and crude and even as it crashed into the soundspace like a downed aircraft, it somehow remained utterly feminine. This was not a female interpretation of a male-defined punk genre, this was a fierce release of untamed, unhinged power. There is room in the music world for women rockers to obliterate the norms and be this raucous -- all we need now from Babes in Toyland is new songs.

Visit Babes in Toyland at www.babesintoyland.com.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Eagles of Death Metal at the Bowery Ballroom

Jesse Hughes
At age seven, Jesse Hughes moved from his native Greenville, South Carolina, to Palm Desert, California. In high school, Josh Homme stopped a bully from picking on Hughes, and Hughes and Homme became best friends. After college, Hughes worked as the manager of a video depot until he and Homme formed Eagles of Death Metal in 1998. Since 2004, Eagles of Death Metal has recorded four albums; the most recent album, Zipper Down, will be released on October 2, 2015, and is the band's first album in seven years. Hughes and Homme are the only permanent members of Eagles of Death Metal, though Homme rarely plays live shows because of his primary commitment as lead singer of Queens of the Stone Age.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Hughes' backup consisted of long-time guitarist Dave Catching, along with bassist Matt McJunkins and drummer Jeff Friedl, who also comprise the rhythm section of Puscifer and A Perfect Circle. Despite Eagles of Death Metal's tongue-in-cheek name, the concert sounded nothing like the Eagles or death metal. A similar spirit of levity permeated the hard rocking band's performance. The musicians came on stage, launching the party spirit by singing along and dancing as Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Born on the Bayou" played loudly through the house speakers. Hughes' larger-than-life stage persona and between-song banter remained comical right up to a mock guitar battle at the end of the set. The band opened with "Bad Dream Mama" from the first album and continued with gritty garage-basic arrangements of 10 more songs from all four albums. Hughes played Keith Richards' style riffs and Catching played Billy Gibbons' style slide, and it all rocked and rolled. For the encores, Hughes came out alone and performed four audience requests, beginning with the Ramones' "Beat on the Brat" and ending with the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," accompanied only by his guitar. The rest of the band then returned for "Wannabe in L.A.", "I Only Want You" and a 10-minute "Speaking in Tongues" with the aforementioned guitar battle. Eagles of Death Metal did well in leading a 90-minute fun-filled rock and roll party.

Visit the Eagles of Death Metal at www.eaglesofdeathmetal.com.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Mothers at Berlin

Based out of Athens, Georgia, Kristine Leschper only last year graduated from college, where she studied printmaking. A visual artist who formerly worked in an art museum, Leschper recently made the transition to music artist, eventually forming an indie quartet. Mothers consists of Leschper on vocals and guitar, guitarist Drew Kirby, bassist Patrick Morales and drummer Matthew Anderegg.

Mothers performed three nights in three small clubs in New York, ending the series tonight at Berlin. Leschper led Mothers in a dreamy pop stew that was largely soft but occasionally drifted into harsh arrangements under non-traditional song structures. Leschper usually sang with her eyes closed, perhaps shielding herself from the vulnerability she exposed in her high floating and highly feminine voice. The band supported her with styles that ranged from shoegaze to a dash of no wave, at times as an ensemble approaching emo, but always veered left of center. Mothers is a band for unorthodox tastes in soft indie music.

Delta Deep at Players

Phil Collen
Phil Collen taught himself to play guitar as a teen-ager in his native London, England. In the midst of a promising career in Girl, he was invited in 1982 to join Def Leppard. After sales of 100 million records and 30 years of arena tours with the hard rock superstars, Collen has returned to playing in small clubs with a new side project called Delta Deep. Collen met rhythm & blues vocalist Debbi Blackwell-Cook (Michael Buble, Luther Vandross) in 2010; she is his wife's godmother. Blackwell-Cook sang at their wedding and frequently visited the couple. Collen and Blackwell-Cook began singing Motown and classic blues songs around the house, and before long the duo began performing before audiences in Orange County, California, where Collen presently resides. They recruited rock bassist Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots) and jazz drummer Forrest Robinson (Crusaders, Jo Sample, India.Arie), and the blues band Delta Deep was born in 2012. Delta Deep's self titled debut album was released on June 23, 2015.

Robert DeLeo is touring presently with Stone Temple Pilots, so he was unable to participate in Delta Deep's premier New York appearance tonight at Players. Delta Deep debuted as a stripped-down trio, playing music loaded with blues and soul roots. Powerhouse singer Debbi Blackwell-Cook belted blues and rhythm and blues songs, accompanied only by Phil Collen ripping on acoustic or electric guitar and Forrest Robinson slapping on hand percussion. The band performed all 11 songs from its debut album, plus a few more, including a simple reworking of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine." Perhaps because the music was so bare, Collen's passion for re-awakening a vintage sound was all the more prominent. The sheer nakedness of the music likewise highlighted Collen's impressive old-fashioned blues picking, which is not as fundamental in Def Leppard. Collen and Blackwell-Cook were personable and chatty as they shared the joy they derived from preserving the blues and  soul music in their rawest forms. While this very basic groove is unlikely to reach Def Leppard's massive appeal, Delta Deep's intimate performance tonight was a mission well executed.

Visit Delta Deep at www.deltadeep.net.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Marty Friedman at the Gramercy Theatre

Prior to his 10 years and 10 million record sales with the thrash metal band Megadeth, Marty Friedman lived in Washington D.C., Hawaii, Germany and California. At the age of 14, after attending a Kiss concert, Friedman taught himself to play guitar, and later formed several bands, including the neoclassical progressive rock band Cacophony. When Cacophony disbanded in 1989 after two albums, Friedman auditioned for Megadeth; Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine initially rejected Friedman for having multicolored hair, but Friedman played in Megadeth from 1990 to 2000. Since 1988, Friedman has released 12 solo albums; the most recent, Inferno, was released on May 27, 2014. Friedman relocated in 2003 to Tokyo, Japan, where he has hosted several television programs in fluent Japanese.

Three decades into his career, Marty Friedman's 2015 concert tour marks his first American concert series since leaving Megadeth. Upon taking the stage at the Gramercy Theatre tonight, Friedman and his band members gathered by the drum kit for a fist-bump. With that, Friedman turned to face the audience and tore into "Hyper Doom" from the Inferno album with his trio, youthful guitarist Jordan Ziff of Scottsdale, Arizona, and a Japanese rhythm section of bassist Kiyoshi and drummer Chargeeeeee. Friedman spoke to the audience occasionally between songs, but otherwise the set was performed without microphones. The second song, "Amagi Goe," was a rocking reworking of a song by Sayuri Ishikawa (think Japanese Barbra Streisand). The next surprise was how "Street Demon" from his 2006 Loudspeaker album incorporated a snippet of Megadeth's "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due." That would be all the Megadeth the audience would hear. Friedman showcased his virtuoso skills as he fused elements of neo-classical, thrash metal and progressive rock with various electric guitars, using unorthodox picking, arpeggiated chords and unique scales and arpeggios. Friedman also showcased his musicians' prowess with several solos. Friedman even invited a fan from the audience to jam on "Dragon Mistress"; the houselights came on and he selected Jeffrey Monge of the opening act Metalfier. (Was it a set-up? We do not know, but Monge played amazing blazing solos.) In all, Friedman provided solid proof that he has much more to offer beyond Megadeth.

Visit Marty Friedman at www.martyfriedman.com.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Scream at the Bowery Electric

Peter Stahl
Vocalist Peter Stahl, his brother Franz Stahl on guitar, bassist Skeeter Thompson and drummer Kent Stax formed hardcore punk band Scream in 1981 in Bailey's Crossroads, Virginia. The band fit easily into the burgeoning hardcore hotbed in Washington, D.C. Scream recorded five studio albums before disbanding in 1990. Among the band's many personnel changes, Dave Grohl played drums in Scream for three years, then graduated to Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. Scream has reunited briefly several times, and some of the performances have included Grohl. Scream's present lineup includes the four original members plus guitarist Clint Walsh. The band's most recent studio album is Fumble, which was recorded before the band's initial break-up but released in 1993.

The Bowery Electric continues to attract hardcore punk reunions, and Scream was the most recent acquisition. Scream started rather tamely tonight with vocals-centered songs, but quickly raced into its signature sound -- direct political and social messages played at warp speed and savage intensity. Scream revisited the beauty of early hardcore music, before the scene merge with thrash and later grunge. Scream kept the vocals up front, hence maintaining pop melodies as the hierarchy of the set. Meanwhile, the musicians behind the singer offered a thick wall of power chords and sonic blasts. In the 1980s, Scream was on the innovative side of punk by incorporating reggae and mid-tempo songs, and tonight the band recalled all of these threads. Scream is no longer on the forefront of a hardcore revival, but a show like tonight offered perspective and historical context to a sound that might never die.

Visit Scream at www.screamdc.com.

Angela McCluskey at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel

Angela McCluskey was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and relocated to London, England, where she worked as a publicist and at a record company. In 1993, McCluskey relocated to Los Angeles, California, and recorded three albums with the folk rock band Wild Colonials. She worked invisibly as a studio vocalist for years, but in 2004 embarked on a solo career. After four albums, her most recent recording is an EP, Lambeth Palace, released in 2012.

Once a folk singer, Angela McCluskey is now a dance floor diva. McCluskey and her husband, pianist/composer Paul Cantelon, introduced their new project, St. Bernadette, at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel in the East Village. Backed by both pre-recorded tracks and live musicians (including two accordionists!), much of McCluskey's new music was a cross between big band swing and disco, much like Kid Creole & the Coconuts in the 1980s. She also carried torch songs well as an emotive jazz singer in her noir cabaret moments. Spreading the blanket of music even further, McCluskey daringly reinterpreted reggae in her set. The modern dance floor songs at the end of her set had hips swiveling in the audience, but her most fascinating moments were her earlier hi-de-ho styled songs. McCluskey's sultry delivery brought smoky texture to whatever she sang, and the results were often spine-tingling.

Visit Angela McCluskey at www.angelamccluskey.com.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

L7 at Irving Plaza

Guitarist/vocalists Donita Sparks and Suzi Gardner began playing as a punk rock duo in 1985 in Los Angeles, California. They formed L7, named after a 1960s slang word for a "square" person who was not "hip." Bassist Jennifer Finch and drummer Roy Koutsky joined, but Koutsky left in short time and Demetra "Dee" Plakas became the L7 drummer. L7 recorded six albums and influenced many of the riot grrrl bands of the 1990s. L7 split in 2001 and reunited in 2014. The band's most recent album, Slap-Happy, was released in 1999.

At Irving Plaza tonight, L7’s performance was designed to relive its glory days, not break new ground. The 20-song set was firmly ground in the band's celebrated early 1990s, with only one song from the 1980s and one from L7's later years. The root of L7's music was an angry, primitive punk rock, but the reunited band's heavy riff-oriented guitar grind sounded polished, and the gang vocals even more spit-shined. Having long out-grown the primal garage band stage, the matured L7 was less radical and more suited for a wider audience. This was not about improved musicianship, however; the many questionable guitar solos still lacked mastery. The show pivoted on rallying anthems and the satisfying cool of nostalgic reunions (both within the band and among the fans). For all its bombastic rage and simple musical arrangements, the performance was a blast.

Visit L7 at www.l7theband.com.

Les Sans Coulottes at Irving Plaza

Clermont Ferrand
In late 18th century France, the original sans-culottes (French: "without culottes") were the common people of the lower classes who wore "pantalons" (long trousers) instead of "culottes" (the fashionable silk knee-breeches of the nobility and bourgeoisie); many of the sans-culottes became radical and militant citizen soldiers of the French Revolution. Today, the phrase more commonly translates literally as "those  without underwear." Les Sans Culottes is also a French language rock band formed in 1998 in Brooklyn, New York. Led by Michigan-born legal aid attorney William Carney (renamed Clermont Ferrand) and New Jersey-born graphic designer Audrey Kellar (renamed Kit Kat Le Noir), les San Culottes performs original compositions, covers of French rock songs and French-language reworkings of classic American pop rock hits. After more than 25 line-up changes, les San Culottes presently consists of vocalists Ferrand and Le Noir, who are the only remaining original members, plus vocalist Brigitte Bourdeaux, guitarist Geddy Liaison, keyboardist Benoit Bals, bassist M. Pomme Frite, and drummer Jacques Strappe. Les Sans Culottes released The Gods Have Thirst, its eighth and most recent album, on November 11, 2014.

Opening for L7 at Irving Plaza tonight, les San Culottes sounded like a modern band performing 1980s new wave versions of 1960s French pop and yé-yé girl pop music. This was what would have happened if saucy '60s French pop stars like Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Dutronc, and Jacques Brel had joined the B-52's. It was double retro music, both a campy send-up of and a tribute to these vintage sounds, sung in French, and it was uniquely captivating. On songs like "Faux Pas" and "Gendarme, Gendarme," Ferrand, Le Noir and Bourdeaux alternated lead vocals, to bashing garage rock behind them. A punky French version of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking" was a highlight. Ferrand, wearing sunglasses and a pink sports jacket, stayed in character, affecting a French accent while speaking to the audience between songs. As if this was an inventive Saturday Night Live skit, les Sans Culottes took the faux-French facade to an absurd level and made it fun for all.

Visit les Sans Culottes at www.lessansculottes.com.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Oz Noy Quartet at the Bitter End

Guitarist Oz Noy started performing jazz, blues, pop and rock in his native Israel at age 13. By age 16, he was playing with top Israeli musicians and artists. By age 24, he was among the most established studio guitar players in his country. Noy was also a member of the house band on Israel’s top-rated television show for more than two years. He emigrated to New York in 1996 and has been performing with all-star bands at the Bitter End, the 55 Bar and other venues. Noy's seventh album, Asian Twistz, a live album, was released on March 17, 2015.

On most Monday nights, Oz Noy performs at the Bitter End with established studio musicians in an instrumental jazz funk band. On this night he led keyboardist Jerry Z, bassist Will Lee, and drummer Rocky Bryant. He jokingly introduced his instrumental cover of "I Got You" as "a song I wrote for James Brown in the 1960s," but most of his songs are originals, each with its own funk groove. Noy excelled on his guitar; with little distortion other than a wah-wah pedal, Noy's runs were fluid and melodic, flowing lyrically as his left hand quickly scaled his fret board. Noy also encouraged the other musicians to improvise, and capturing the various textures of the songs, they weaved a strong and intriguing fabric of sounds. Noy has said, "it’s jazz; it just doesn’t sound like it." Oz Noy's jams make for enjoyable Monday nights in Greenwich Village.

Visit Oz Noy at www.oznoy.com.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Revocation at the Studio at Webster Hall

David Davidson
Three high school students bonded over their love for Metallica and Guns N' Roses and formed Cryptic Warning in 2000 in Boston, Massachusetts. After circulating two demos and an album, the musicians sought a redirection and in 2006 Cryptic Warning became thrash/technical metal band Revocation. Guitarist/vocalist David Davidson is the sole remaining founder; the band now also includes guitarist Dan Gargiulo, bassist Brett Bamberger and new drummer Ash Pearson. Revocation released its fifth studio album, Deathless, on October 14, 2014.

Having worked its way to headliner status, Revocation's performance tonight at the Studio at Webster Hall proved that the band is far more than an illegible logo. The 12-song set opened and closed with songs from Revocation's most recent album, but the show touched on all five albums and one EP. To some degree, however, the band's nearly 10 years of original music collapsed into a single fold, as Revocation found and developed its niche. While the warp speed musicianship and growling vocals were standard issue to the thrash and death metal genres, Davidson's complex guitar technique blazed beyond the normal. His extended leads were dizzyingly fast, dazzlingly precise and dangerously explosive. Supporting his leadership, the four musicians together turned on the ignition with mammoth waves of energy, and then together frequently ceased abruptly enough to induce whiplash. Like a torrid storm of crisp thunder and lightning, Revocation entered and exited its songs with intense dynamism. By the end of the set, Revocation had stood out as ragingly unique in the blurry seas of metal music.

Visit Revocation at www.revocationband.com.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Lake Street Dive at Rumsey Playfield

Rachel Price
A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, trumpet player/guitarist Mike Olson designed in 2004 to form a pop band from among his fellow music students in Boston, Massachusetts. He selected vocalist Rachel Price, originally from outside Nashville, Tennessee, bassist Bridget Kearney of Iowa and drummer Mike Calabrese of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. All his recruits had been singing and/or playing musical instruments since childhood. Olson named the band Lake Street Dive after a strip in his home town that housed several seedy bars. Kearney submitted a song to the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2005 and won the jazz category; Lake Street Dive used the prize money to record a debut CD in 2006. The band then began its concert career in 2007 in a rock club in Des Moines, Iowa. What grabbed the public's attention, however, was a casually made video featuring the band performing a cover of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" around a single microphone on a street corner in Brighton, Massachusetts. Lake Street Dive now is based in Brooklyn, New York. The band's most recent album, Bad Self Portraits, was released on February 18, 2014.

Headlining a free admission concert tonight at Rumsey Playfield as part of SummerStage Central Park, Lake Street Dive gave a modern twist to 1960s pop rock, from Brill Building to British Invasion to Motown. The quartet's musical gymnastics remained close to pop radio groundwork, but pushed the edges a bit further as Price's strong, soulful vocals and Olson's guitar and trumpet snippets gave both gravity and flight to dynamic funk and jazz grooves. The set consisted mostly of original songs released within the past three years, but also included reinterpreted covers, including Annie Lennox's "Walking on Broken Glass," a reimagined working of Van Halen's "Jump" inserted in the middle of "Bobby Tanqueray," and an encore of Hall & Oates' "Rich Girl." Many of the songs rocked out with extended jams, but the band also sang a couple of stripped-down songs standing around a single old-time microphone for barbershop quartet-type harmonies. Crossing a healthy range of vocal and musical styles, the four musicians' energetic performances kept their pop music invigorating and refreshing.

Visit Lake Street Dive at www.lakestreetdive.com.